Archive | Parenting

Tips For Adulthood: Five Life Skills For Ten Year Olds

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

At my son’s school, they periodically teach the children what they call “life skills.”

I’m not exactly sure what they cover in that curriculum. I suspect that it may have more to do with social/emotional development. But I like the term “life skills,” as it captures something practical about what kids need to do to get on in life, as opposed to just learning facts.

When your kids are little, there are plenty of “life skills” milestones. Potty training is, of course, the first giant hurdle. Sleeping through the night on their own is another one, if you go in for that sort of thing.

But as your kids get older, they also need to acquire certain life skills. And if you’re like me, you wake up one day and realize that your ten year-old doesn’t know how to tie his shoes and you think: Yikes!

To that end, and because April in the UK this year was basically one giant, extended holiday, I decided to devote that month to helping my son master some basic life skills.

To wit, here are ten things all ten year-olds should know how to do:

1. Tie their shoes. I can’t say I’m proud of this. But I looked down one day and realized that with the advent of Velcro, my son didn’t know how to tie his shoes. This concern had actually been rummaging around in the recesses of my mind for quite some time. (And apparently, I’m not alone. More five year-olds today can operate a Smart Phone app than can tie their shoes. But it wasn’t until I took my son to his weekly soccer practice and noticed that all of the other boys were wearing lace up cleats (boots) that I realized it was time to pull the trigger. The good news? He mastered it in about 24 hours. (Seeing a friend tie his shoes without even looking down was a big incentive.) The bad news? It’s really hard to explain, especially when you’re facing your kid as it means explaining it backwards. (Here are some useful tips for how to teach this skill.)

2. Ride a bike. Once again, I know that I was way behind on this one. And my advice to anyone else wondering when the optimal time to teach a kid to ride a bike would be: earlier is better than later. I think that when they are lower to the ground the whole thing is less scary and dramatic. But now that he’s mastered this skill, he begs me to take him for bike rides. Next up? Riding our bikes to school. Can’t wait.

3. Cut with a knife and fork. This was another life skill I added to my list once I realized that I was really tired of cutting my son’s meat up for him every time we ate. I’m not sure if I’m alone on this, but I think that learning to cut properly with a knife and fork is actually pretty hard to teach. (And to learn. Lord knows I’ve seen some adults who struggle with this particular challenge.) Here are some handy tips I found on the Internet. I love #10: be patient. Not exactly my son’s forté. (Nor my own.) Sigh.

4. Employ Good Handwriting. Oh, how we have struggled with this one. For the longest time, my son insisted (and not entirely without reason) that in the age of computers, handwriting is totally passé. (Oh and by the way? Those of you who are nostalgic for the lost art of handwriting? The typewriter has gone the way of the horse and buggy as well.) But over the Easter holidays – and with the encouragement (and insistence) of his English teacher – we went back and actually re-learned cursive (joined up) from the ground up. I can’t say it was always smooth sailing. But boy, did he improve. I also realized that my own handwriting is complete rubbish. (Life skills for 45 year-olds, anyone?)

5. Get along with their siblings. Yeah, that’s more of a work in progress. I’ll let you know how it goes…

 

What am I missing?

 

Image: tying by vistavision via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A friend of mine is toilet training her two year-old. My friend has two older children, aged six, so she’s been through this before. And yet – like all traumatic experiences concerning parenting -

The funny thing about parenting is that .

Is It Ever O.K. To Spy On Your Kids?

I’ve mentioned before that my ten-year-old son seems to have entered adolescence early.

And while that solves certain problems, it opens up a host of others. Like how to monitor what he’s up to on the computer. Whereas that once amounted to limiting his time on Fifa 09, it now amounts to making sure that he’s not surreptitiously downloading Assassin’s Creed onto our iPhone.

So when I saw that his school was offering a free parenting discussion group about boys and the Internet, I thought, “Why not?” and went along.

I showed up, pen in hand, thinking that the nice lady offering the seminar was going to give me a list of websites I could visit and download all the appropriate Internet controls.

Wrong. While she did direct us to one or two websites, the very first point that she made was that however much you think you might be able to control what your kids do on the computer, you can’t. If they don’t see whatever it is you don’t want them seeing at your own home, they’ll see it at a friends’ home.

Or they’ll discover a way to get around the controls. One gentleman at the seminar noted that his 13-year-old was at Boarding School where the boys get their own rooms. Apparently, in his very first term, his son had not only gotten around the school’s firewalls for pornography and the like, the kid was actually administering them. (And I could *totally* see my computer-savvy child doing exactly the same thing.)

So takeaway point #1 from this meeting was that the best way to manage the Internet with a teenager is *not* to devise ever more secure locks, as I’d perhaps naively hoped. It was to start talking with your son or daughter…now. Talk to them about the kinds of images they might encounter on the web…talk to them about the kinds of people they might encounter on the web…talk to them about how to handle potentially inappropriate content when they are out of the home.

Which was, upon reflection, sort of reassuring.

But the meeting also raised some other interesting challenges for parenting teens.

There was one priceless moment where one of the Moms confessed that she’d discovered recently that her son, aged 10, had been Googling “Girls’ bottoms” on the Internet. The Mom’s response was to wait about a week and then give her son a book about human anatomy (without telling her son that she’d been monitoring his “history” on the Internet).

“You mean you’re spying on your son?” one Dad asked, in shock.

“Well, I wouldn’t call it spying,” this Mom responded. “It’s more like benevolent monitoring.”

“And you’re not going to tell him that you’re spying on him?” the Dad continued.

“No. If I tell him, then I won’t be able to keep checking up on his history. And I want to be able to do that.”

(Allow me to reveal that this exchange was quite possibly the closest I’d ever come to witnessing open conflict between two English people during my five years living in the U.K., and the journalist in me was lapping it up. More to the point, in a country where there’s one CCTV camera for every 32 people, the political implications of where you fall on “spying” vs. “benevolent monitoring” were hard to miss.)

Interestingly, about half of the parents in the room thought that checking up on your kids behind their backs was absolutely fine and could see themselves doing something similar. There was even one woman who thought that children shouldn’t have access to the Internet – at all! – before they were 14. (Sorry, honey, I’m deeply sympathetic, but I think that horse has left the barn.)

The other half of those assembled were less comfortable with this mom’s self-described “benevolent monitoring” and felt that – at a minimum – she should have told her son what she was doing.

I found myself somewhere in the middle. I don’t check my son’s email routinely, though when it’s open I do find myself glancing down at  his inbox to see if anything inappropriate has surfaced. On the other hand,  I do think that if you’re going to talk to your kid about sex, it’s probably best to do it directly rather than indirectly.

What do you think? Is it ever OK to spy on your kids – on the Internet or anywhere else? And should you tell them that you’re doing it?

Image: CCTV – 30 St. Mary Axe by chiselwright via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: How To Manage Without Your Spouse

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

My husband is away on a business trip this week. I’m very lucky that he travels so infrequently. And usually when he is gone, it’s only for a few days at a time.

But this time he’s gone for an entire eight days. And because we don’t have a car or regular childcare, it can be a bit of a challenge to manage when he’s not around – both logistically and emotionally.

I tried really hard to gear up for his absence before he left, and so far (Happy Hump Day!) things are working out pretty well. Here are five tips for managing your life when your spouse or partner goes out of town:

1. Be relaxed but organized. That – courtesy of my fabulous life coach – is my mantra this week. As regular readers of this blog  know, the “organized” part comes easily. I am, after all, a walking calendar. But relaxed? Not so much. Especially when the carefully carved out division of labor between myself and my husband goes awry. (There’s a reason I’m not in charge of the kids’ music practice…) So every time I find myself tensing up, I just repeat that phrase out loud. I also keep a stress ball located in various corners of the house – my desk, the piano, next to the stove – so that I can just squeeeeeeze the anxiety out when it arises.

2. Do less. If, like me, you’re someone who tries to cram all of the 65,000 things you normally do in any given week into a week where – for whatever reason…school holidays…ill children…AWOL spouse – you simply have less time, here’s a radical proposal: do less. If necessary, pretend that you’re sick. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel.

3. Bribe your kids. I suppose the politically correct term here would be “incentivize,” but whatever. The point is – if you have children – you need to motivate them to get through the week despite all the changes to the normal schedule. In our case, because my kids attend different schools, the main hurdle is vaulting ourselves through the morning school run which is normally split between my husband and myself. This means getting up half an hour earlier, moving through breakfast at a brisk pace, and adding two additional 25 minute walks to my seven-year-old’s day. The incentive? Because I have one of those daughters who really cares how she looks, I have secretly saved a skirt and “half-jumper” (sweater) that we bought last week and she thought we were returning. I will bestow it upon her this evening just in time for…Come Dressed As Your Favorite Book Character Day at school tomorrow. (Isn’t it fortunate that Jane, the elder sister in Pride and Prejudice, wears long skirts?)

4. Treat yourself. Be sure to carve out time for yourself when your spouse/partner is away, where you can relax doing the kinds of things that you enjoy doing (particularly the ones he or she doesn’t like). In my case,  as a huge and often unrequited fan of the Oscars, I cordoned off all of Monday night to watch a special Oscar Highlights program (time change made it impossible to watch live), followed by Glee. Imagine my delight.

5. Appreciate the absent spouse. This is also key, for both partners and children. When someone’s away, try to set aside some time to think about and talk about why it’s sad that they’re not there, beyond just the inconvenience of it all. What do they bring to the family? What do you miss when they’re gone? (Be prepared that this may backfire. When I asked my kids the other day at breakfast “Imagine if Daddy was always traveling. Wouldn’t that be awful?” my son responded: “Well, we’d definitely have a car.”) Not exactly what I was looking for, but it’s a start…

*****

For those who are interested, here’s a post I did over at Politics Daily on new medical guidelines in the U.K. telling women that abortion is safer than childbirth.

Image: Glee by statelyenglishmanor via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Parenting Kids With Food Allergies

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Woven into the many and varied items on my to-do list this week – which range from getting my haircut to helping my husband edit one of his academic papers to writing, oh, about 6,000 blog posts – is to be sure that every day, right before I pick up my son, I also pick up some tuna sushi.

Don’t imagine for one moment that I’m doing this for myself. I dislike fish…I hate sushi…and I almost never stop to eat once the whirlwind, 90-minute after-school pick-up run is in motion. (If only!)

No, I’m assiduously folding in a stop at Hi Sushi every afternoon this week because last week, my son officially passed an in-hospital food challenge for tuna. Which means that now that it’s safe for him to eat tuna, he needs to keep eating it for the rest of his life. (Specifically, three times a week for the next fortnight and once every two weeks thereafter.) More on that below.

Dealing with food allergies is so woven into my life at this point that I sometimes forget how little the rest of the world knows about them. (An immunologist once told me that they are also quite poorly understood by the medical profession as well.)

So for those of you who have a child with a known food allergy, fear that your kid might or simply wonder what is *up* with all those people freaking out about peanuts on an airplane, here are five facts about parenting kids with food allergies:

1. The science is changing. True, allergies may not be well understood vis a vis other common childhood diseases. But as the number of children suffering from food allergies continues to grow (according to a 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 million U.S. children have food or digestive allergies, affecting nearly 5 percent of all children under 5), we are learning more about the causes and treatments of food allergies with each passing year. And the science is changing. A fascinating recent article in The New Yorker detailed the nature of these changes which – excitingly for me – are being carried out by a research team here in London at my son’s allergy clinic. (Summary here; subscription for full article.) The thrust of the article is that whereas the conventional wisdom once held that infants with food allergies should avoid the foods at all costs (unless and until they outgrew them), the new thinking is that the best way to treat allergies is to “desensitize” infants by exposing them to the allergen in small increments over time.

2. Allergies come and go. As noted above, my son has just outgrown his tuna allergy. Last year, he outgrew his peanut allergy and a few years before that, his soy allergy. That’s the good news. The bad news? Allergies can also strike at any point. My son wasn’t always allergic to fish. Or to sesame. Until he was about four, I regularly fed him fish sticks from Whole Foods (egg and milk free!) as well as sesame bagels. But around the age of four, he could no longer eat cod or any other white fish without breaking out in hives (an allergy which persists, along with sesame.) And that’s precisely the reason that now that we know that tuna is safe, we need to keep giving it to him for the rest of his life, lest the allergy come back.

3. Alternative tests don’t work. The two main diagnostic methods for identifying food allergies are skin prick tests – in which potentially troublesome foods are scratched into the skin and any resulting swellings analyzed – and IgE (immunoglobulin) blood tests, which check for specific antibodies. But at least according to Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), alternative tests for children’s food allergies – such as hair analysis or muscle weakness – should be avoided because there is little evidence that they work.

4. Mistakes happen. If you have a kid with potentially life-threatening food allergies as I do, you can kill yourself trying to eliminate every last possible trigger that might plausibly induce an allergic reaction. But you know what? Sooner or later, someone’s going to make a mistake. You’ll accidentally pour the wrong milk into his cereal bowl. (Guilty.) Or you’ll go to a restaurant and even though they’ve assured you up, down and sideways that  – no, the brocolli really wasn’t cooked in butter – it was. I once watched a two-year old with an egg allergy cavalierly march up to the table at a bake sale when his father wasn’t looking, down a blueberry muffin and – within minutes – turn blue and require an epipen. I almost fainted, with my own severely-egg-allergic child looking on. But you know what? I also learned a valuable lesson. The kid was fine afterwards. His dad (who administered the epipen) was calm throughout. And I realized – once again – that Sh%$ happens.

5. Don’t feel sorry for kids with allergies. If I had a dime for every time someone (well-meaningly) said to me: “Gosh, I’m so sorry for your son that he can’t eat… pizza…ice cream…milk chocolate…[fill in the blank].” But you know what? He’s fine! He doesn’t care that he’s never eaten ice cream because he doesn’t know what he’s missing. To him, dark chocolate is a luxury. So is marzipan (almond being one of the few nuts he can tolerate.) And the fact that he can’t eat most junk food means that he’s way healthier than most of his peers. (I have a friend whose ten-year-old son recently grew out of his milk allergy and she didn’t even tell him because she doesn’t want him to start eating Hershey’s bars.) Those of us who live this life know no other. So don’t feel sorry for us. But yes, by all means bring along some vegan donut holes the next time you drop by. Surprisingly tasty!

And speaking of which, I really must run. Hi Sushi beckons…

Image: Warning – Allergy Advice: Contains Milk by Danny McL via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Tips For Adulthood: Five Facts About Teenagers

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

About a week ago, I told my ten-year-old son that all of his friends from his old school were attending a Valentine’s Day disco this year with girls. “Isn’t that funny?” I remarked. “I mean, I can’t imagine you going to a dance with a girl!”

His response: “You know nothing about my private life.”

I reported that exchange on my Facebook page.

Shortly thereafter, a friend with two teenagers commented wisely: “This is only the beginning.”

As my children are but 10 and 7, the teen years and all of their related angst and drama still seem so far off. And yet, every time I open up a newspaper lately, I’m confronted with a new (often disturbing) fact about teens.

On the basis that forewarned is forearmed, here are five things we all need to know about teenagers these days:

1. They don’t use email. I actually learned this over the Christmas holidays when I tried (in vain) to reach one of my teen-aged nieces by email. Her father (my brother) shook his head. “Kids don’t use email anymore,” he said. “They don’t even use voicemail. If you want their attention, text them.” He’s right. According to a new survey, email use dropped 59 percent among users aged 12-17. Instead, young people are turning to social networks to communicate, which accounts for 14 percent of time spent online in the U.S. Michelle Obama’s views notwithstanding – Facebook accounts for most of that growth.

2. Peer Pressure is influenced by brain activity. In studies at Temple University, psychologists used functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on 40 teenagers and adults to determine if there are differences in brain activity when adolescents are alone versus with their friends. They found that – unlike adults – teenagers are more likely to misbehave and take risks when their friends are watching. The good news? They’ll grow out of it. The bad news? There’s a lot of room for accidents and bad decisions in the meantime.

3. Popular kids are more likely to be bullies. OK, this might not be all that surprising, especially for those of use who choose to re-live our high school years every week on Glee. But it’s comforting to know that this well-known fact is apparently grounded in science. According to a paper published in the American Sociological Review, the more central you are to your school’s social network, the more aggressive you are as well (unless and until you reach the very top.) The take home point? Social climbing = meanness. (Something tells me this might also be true for adults…)

4. Heaving drinking as an adolescent tends to continue. This is both alarming and depressing. According to yet another recent study, heavy drinking in the late teen years often continues into adulthood and is associated with long-term alcohol-related problems. But here’s another interesting finding: teenagers who are raised with a religious outlook are less likely to abuse alcohol (at least through early adulthood). So the next time you hear someone say “Oh, they’re just kids! We all binged when we were kids!” Think again. Or send your kids to Church.

5. Sex isn’t necessarily bad for schoolwork. Well, here’s some good news (at least for some). Sexually active teens don’t necessarily do worse in school. According to a study presented at the American Sociological Association last summer, teens in committed relationships do no better or worse in school than those who don’t have sex. (The same is not true for teens who engage in casual “hook-ups” – their academic performance does deteriorate vs. teens who abstain.) The moral of the story? If your teenager is going steady, don’t sweat it, at least on account of his or her grades. But you might want to be sure they’re being careful. American teens use condoms and birth control pills considerably less than their counterparts in other industrialized countries, have more abortions and considerably higher rates of HIV and STDs.

Image: teenagers in my basement by tifotter via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
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For those who are interested, here’s a post I wrote earlier this week about our unending obsession with the sex lives of others, especially Julian Assange and Silvio Berlusconi.

Abortion Less Traumatic Than Childbirth, Study Finds

As the abortion wars heat up once again, there’s a new study out that’s sure to add fuel to the fire. A leading medical journal reports that having an abortion may be less damaging to a woman’s mental health than having a baby.

The study — which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week — tracked 365,550 girls and women in Denmark who had a first-trimester abortion or first-time delivery between 1995 and 2007. Researchers selected females with no history of mental health problems prior to getting pregnant. They then compared the rate of mental health treatment (as measured by an inpatient admission or outpatient visit) within the 12 months after the abortion or childbirth as compared with the 9-month period preceding it.

The study found that women who had an abortion sought psychiatric treatment at roughly the same rate before and after that event, while the incidence with which women who gave birth sought counseling increased dramatically after having a baby.

Specifically, one percent of women sought help for possible mental disorders in the nine months before the abortion, while 1.5 percent did so in the 12 months that followed. On the other hand, 0.3 percent of women who gave live birth visited a psychiatrist for the first time in the nine months before birth compared to an average of 0.7 percent in the year that followed. So even though women seeking abortions are statistically more likely to have emotional problems to begin with, the study concludes they actually “suffer” less after the abortion than their counterparts who have children.

The scholars’ conclusion? Contrary to popular belief (and heretofore received scientific wisdom), women’s mental health is not seriously compromised by having an (early) abortion.

Read the rest of this story at www.politicsdaily.com

 

Image: Pregnant Woman by Bete a Bon-Dieu via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Huck Finn, Censorship And The N-Word Controversy

My ten year-old came home from school the other day with an assignment from his teacher: to write an original story based around the concept of a “ship wreck.”

He promptly sat down at the dinner table and began composing his opus. It was the story of a “tan skinned” pirate of Somali origin who hijacks a boat with an AK-47. In broken English, the pirate threatens all the passengers on the ship with his weapon. Then they die.

When my son showed me his essay afterwards, I was mortified. “You can’t write this!” I exclaimed. “You sound like a racist!” I then forced him to expurgate the most offensive passages from his text, including the color of the pirate’s skin and the derogatory description of his accent.

But when I recounted this story to an English friend of mine, she just shook her head. “Oh you Americans!” she said, laughing. “You’re so hung up on political correctness! An English teacher would neither notice nor care about any of this. Lighten up!”

I was reminded of this vignette earlier this week when I read that a new edition of Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is coming out in February. In the new version, all instances of the N-word – which appears more than 200 times in the book – are to be expunged. In its place, the book will employ the term “slave.” (“Injun” – a derogatory term for Native Americans – will also be replaced by “Indian.”)

Read the rest of this story at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Huck Finn by CaZaTo Ma via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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PTA Burnout: Is Parent Volunteering A Waste Of Time?

I was walking down the street the other day when I saw an attractive-looking poster advertising a Christmas fair. As I stopped to read the fine print, I did a double take. The fair was the one held annually at my daughter’s school. And for the first time in four years, I realized that I had no earthly idea how many raffle tickets we’d sold. Nor had I been the one to obtain the local business sponsor for the fair.

And then I remembered: Oh, yeah, right. I’m not on the PTA anymore.

As I wrote about several months ago on this blog, there’s a natural life cycle to being a member of the PTA. You come in — usually when your kids are new to the school. You do your thing — raise some money, run some bake sales, or in my case, achieve an alter-ego, rock star-like status in your community as “Raffle Lady,” which you’ll never quite manage to shake.

And then some combination of increased work demands, changing family priorities and one too many times jamming the PTA laminator sets in. And you hand off to the next gang, who come to that very first organizational meeting in September brimming with exactly the same irrepressible enthusiasm you once evinced, but now can barely manage to fake.

Read the rest of this post at www.PoliticsDaily.com…

*****

I’ve been on the Julian Assange beat this week. Here’s a longer post previewing his arrest at Politics Daily, and here’s a short update now that he’s been arrested. Stay tuned, folks!

Image: Fondant Roses and Colorflow Butterflies by angegreen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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When Your Child Comes In Second Place

In that competitive, fast-paced, land of over-parenting that we all now inhabit, encouraging your child to come in first place is a no-brainer. But what about when your kid comes in second? How do children – and parents – deal with that?

I had reason to confront this question myself recently when my son told me that he was a finalist in an annual reading competition at his school. Every autumn, three children are selected from each year group to stand up before a roomful of parents and teachers and read a passage from their favorite books. My son won the competition last year with a selection from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Return of the King,” so he was already the defending champion. But what if he didn’t win this time?

It doesn’t help that my son goes to a school where — because they’re all boys and because they’re 9 — the kids rank each other on everything they do: who’s the best soccer player; who can recite his times tables fastest; who can play two instruments and at what level. One of his friends even phoned me up one day to announce that my son was his “third best friend, so could he please stay for dinner?” (Gosh! I wondered. What do the first and second best friends get? Dessert? A movie?)

My son chose a particularly challenging passage to read. It was a scene from Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” one that required him to produce both a credible American Southern accent as well as some 19th-century slang. (We live in London, so neither of these things is exactly familiar territory.)

As the date approached, we rehearsed the passage several times a week. As a veteran of many high-school theatrical productions (and the daughter of an actress), I coached him on pacing, intonation and accent. We re-read the passage over and over, homing in on the really tough bits of dialogue until he got them right. The night before the finals, I felt that he finally nailed it.

Read the rest of this post at the New York Times Motherlode blog

Image: What’s this I hear about over-parenting? by Kevin L. Moore via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To See The Kids Are All Right

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

OK, folks, I’ve got another movie recommendation for you.

It’s a small-ish, Indie film by Director Lisa Cholodenko called The Kids Are All Right which has been out in the States for a while now, but only recently opened over here in the land of the free and the brave. (Whoops! That’s the U.S.! I meant, the land that spawned the land of the free and the brave…must get my history straight.)

As always, when I recommend movies or books on this site, it’s because I think that they have something profound to say about adulthood.

So, too, with this film. Here are five reasons you should rush out to see it if you haven’t done so already:

1. It’s about marriage. The film centers around two women – played with just the right mix of pluck and vulnerability by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore – who’ve been married to each other for 18 plus years. And though it’s sort of a film about gay marriage (see #4), I wouldn’t say that’s the central theme. Rather, this film is about what I’ve referred to before as middle marriage – that particular stage of life when you’ve been married for a while and the kids are no longer babies and maybe you’ve had a career change or a move or two, and you’re trying to figure out what it’s all about. And Cholodenko (who also co-wrote the script) gets that stage of life perfectly: the yearnings, the frustrations, the mis-communications, the boredom, the anxiety and, most importantly, the weary and imperfect love that underlies it. I guarantee that if you’ve been married or in a long-term committed relationship for more than five years you will watch this movie and find yourself nodding in recognition.

2. It’s about infidelity. I give nothing away by revealing that the movie’s central drama concerns what happens when the man who donated sperm to this couple many years earlier so that they could have kids re-appears and completely upends their family life. Lots of movies have treated the topic of marital infidelity, which is – as I’ve noted before – not only wide-spread, but in some ways, entirely predictable. (I always feel like I need to justify that claim, so here’s some scientific evidence about why monogamy isn’t natural.) What I liked about this film was the way that the topic was broached. The cheating didn’t stem primarily from feelings of boredom or revenge or even idle sexual attraction. It stemmed from the desire to be recognized and appreciated. Which struck me as so…honest.

3. It’s about parenting teens. Again, there are loads of movies about parenting. What sets this one apart is that it focuses very specifically on parenting teenagers which – in light of our cultural obsession with babies (thank you, Erika Jong!) – can sometimes go missing. The movie not only addresses the classic theme of “letting go” ( the couples’ eldest child is about to go off to college), but also how difficult it can be when you don’t approve of the company your kids are keeping. And Lord knows I could relate to that.

4. It’s about gay marriage. OK, I realize that I just said that this movie wasn’t primarily about gay marriage. And it isn’t. But I very much liked that rather than seeing another film exploring some aspect of a long-term heterosexual relationship, this one brought us inside a homosexual one. In a country where we are still – improbably – trying to figure out if everyone should have the right to marry whoever the heck they want, having a mainstream picture focus in on a lesbian couple with kids who look (gasp) just like every other couple with kids is culturally important.

5. It also stars Mark Ruffalo. ‘Nuff said.

*****

I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about the latest chapter in the harrowing Elizabeth Smart story.

Image: Minhas mães e meu pai by Universo Produção via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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